Biggleswade 1-2 Cambridge City (FA Cup Second Qualifying Round)
I’d never even heard of Biggleswade until a Spanish journalist I follow on Twitter, Guillem Balague, started tweeting recently that he's involved with the local football team, so when an FA Cup game appeared against Cambridge City on an otherwise redundant Sunday afternoon, I jumped at the chance to attend with a possibility of meeting one of Spanish footballs biggest names, before realising it's the wrong bloody team he's at, Balague is actually chairman of Biggleswade United.
There's in fact three clubs in Biggleswade, Town (formed in 1879), United (formed 1959) and Biggleswade FC who were formed in 2016 when the Biggleswade Town U18's moved up to senior level in a breakaway from the Waders who weren’t up for having a Reserves, the newly formed youngsters won the Spartan South Midland First Division at the first time of asking and gained promotion in 2018 from the Premier Division. Ever since they have been in the Southern League Central First Division finishing a highest second spot last season before falling in the playoffs, this season they sit tenth with six points ahead of now arch-enemy Biggleswade Town in the table who are eleventh with two wins having played a game less.
Today's opponents Cambridge City have been around much longer in comparison. Formed in 1908 as Cambridge Town they changed surnames in 1951 when Cambridge was awarded city status, at the same time a local team called Abbey United asked to change their name too, they becoming Cambridge United, thus creating a well-known cross city rivalry.
For many years City were the predominant team but in 1970 United were elected to the football league and ever since the lilywhites have played second fiddle in the tier of town status. City currently playing in the Northern Premier League Midland Division, like Biggleswade, the eighth tier of English football’s pyramid system.
I've done beagle meet and had a spot of breakfast with the wife, she's off to B&M Bargains as I head out the door for midday, down the A46 from Nottingham onto the M1 and south for the town of Bedford an hour and half away. I’m off at junction 13 and up the A421 passing Stewartby Lake before sat nav routes me off for signs of Sanby down the Cambridge Road where I pull up on the left and pass a steward who I ask “is it ok to park here”.
“The cows have been sitting down which suggests rain is on the way” a parking attendant tells me as I get out the car and put on my padded gillet “you should be alright though, plenty of cover here”. It’s wasteland behind a blue corrugated steel stand where in the middle a door looks like the main entrance for players, officials, and directors only.
I’m pointed to the far left corner of the stand and a small turnstile where I opt to pay £10 cash, as I walk through pitch side I’m impressed with what I see, all four sides have stands, to my left behind the goal a low roofed terrace area crossing flag to flag, to the left of that a small stand in between two dugouts on halfway with the words Bedford Town Football Club blazoned on its roof, the far goal has a similar small stand which is as wide as the six yard box, and near side to the front of that blue corrugated number on my right (which houses a rather swanky club bar), a blue and yellow seated area with a very obvious white press box, that’s where I’m heading next, after a piss, a few photos and a hot dog, from a tasty little barbeque that is already sizzling the sausages with the smell of onions in the air.
It’s not long before I’m chomping on my grub with a cup of tea in hand as I stand against the fencing that surrounds the pitch, players starting to warm up on the wide green surface, flat under grey skies in good nick, a man with a ruck sack on is snapping away as a green scarfed fan says to me “I thought that was Elon Musk” I agree and say “It looks like him” before heading over to find my seat having previously emailed the secretary of Biggleswade if I’ll be ok in the press box.
“Daniel” he says, as I ask him “Is this the press box”… “No it’s over there” as he points jestingly towards the opposite side of the ground. “I’ve just got to print the team sheets out” he says “then I’ll move the printer and you can have a seat in here”.
The New Eyrie is the semi-new/semi-old part tired quaint’ish’ home of Bedford Town FC.. Biggleswade is a twenty-minute twelve-mile drive but the teams have ground shared after the tenants moved from Biggleswade Town’s Langford Road Ground in 2021. I’m filling my team sheets in as the Director of the club introduces himself, Jeremy Reynolds who seems a very nice chap.
“Ready to go” says the secretary who by now has moved his printer and spared me a seat in his office to watch the game, a slightly elevated view behind glass and sitting besides the tweeting arm and Ray Clarke, the stadium announcer who tells me a brief history about the club.
As the teams come out, Barry Fry walks by, he parks himself down to sit beside the tunnel entrance just two rows below us all on his own, the Secretary tells me “he was here last week, he’s watching Pemi Aderoju” a nineteen year old striker who scored four in the last round when they won 8-0 against Maldon & Tiptree. “He signed from Kempston Rovers and has been brilliant this season” I'm told.
There’s a minutes silence as two young girls walk by in front of us, everyone stood up bar Fry who’s sitting ground level as his eyes wander to the backsides of the passing duo, no sooner has the Referees whistle gone for a moment to reflect than the rain pours down from the skies, “that’ll add some zip on the pitch” I say as the two teams kick off, Cambridge sky blue, Biggleswade in green.
It’s the home team who do most of the pressing. They’re comfortable in possession as they dominate the early stages and play some neat football from back to front along the ground. Aderoju takes my eye as Fry also in my sight glances at his movement, an athletic looking tall, black, powerful player with a nice touch, good feet, sharp, he has certainly something that pro clubs can work with.
Despite the Biggleswade striker’s stallion like demeanour it’s a short little playmaker for Cambridge who’s showing some nice touches, Stefan Broccoli is picking up the ball in pockets wearing number ten he’s starting to dictate play and it’s he, ‘the smallest on the field’ who gets up highest to head in a cross after just eight minutes to put the away side ahead. “I hate greens” says the stadium announcer.
Moments later its two, a long-range effort is struck low into the corner by Dan Cotton, the away side wresting control from a team who started in otherwise comfortable manor, "it’s a long way back here" I say, but a free kick on the edge of the box offers a lifeline, a deflected effort by Tom Coles falls to the feet of Aderoju who does what he does best and prods home from close range.
At half time I’m asked by the gateman if I fancy a cup of tea, it’s my cue to move out the press box as he wants to talk ‘money’ with the secretary, he tells me I can get a cuppa in the Directors Lounge and stadium announcer Ray takes me over where Jeremy the Chairman asks what I would like to drink.
I’m sat in a sweat shirt track pants and cap feeling slightly under dressed as I’m offered quiche and chocolate brownies to wash my drink down with, I’m thinking poor old Barry Fry is sat outside in the cold on a plastic chair drinking a glass of coke whilst I’m getting five star treatment in the warmth… But I enjoy my brew, and the company as I turn down a post match complimentary tipple before heading back for my second half pew, the two teams out as Biggleswade push for a leveller.
Cambridge however look comfortable in defence, despite their first half passing the second half goes too predictable and at times too direct from the hosts, they play into the hands of centre halves Parr and Black who take pride in heading and kicking everything away, by now captain Scott Bridges in midfield is picking up the pieces and dominating all things centrally, the bald headed number eight is a class above, showing his experience, doing the dirty work and more importantly keeping the ball for his team who fail to be broken down.
It's a half of few chances and Barry Fry has seen enough, he’s walked off with five minutes to go and although there’s a good five minutes of injury time played it’s in vain as Cambridge goalkeeper Welch has hardly a shot to save. It’s been a top performance from the away side who sat back, wrestled authority, sat back again and made themselves hard to break down.
Aderoju might be the player with most potential for league football but City’s Stefan Broccoli was certainly the one who technically stood out as a player who can unlock doors. He played well in the Cambridge attack but was a long second best behind Scott Bridges who was everywhere in the middle of the park. The former Banbury and Royston midfielder was exceptional on the ball and managed to break play down from the Biggleswade engine who themselves couldn’t really get their cogs going.
Alex Marsh huffed and puffed out right whilst Rio Martucci put a shift in but the best performances were in the cornflower blue of Cambridge, Pat Staszewski impressing at right back, at centre half, Taylor Parr played well alongside the equally competent Richard Black, a summer signing from Dareham Town.
Last season Biggleswade beat Cambridge in the first qualifying round of the FA Cup to reach the farthest in the competition they had ever previously been, this season they couldn’t quite go one step further against a team organised, but currently struggling in their division.
There’s no reason to say neither side can’t do well this season, both play good football, both look to have goalscorers in armour, both will back themselves against opponents at their level, both well coached, well drilled, well played.
For Cambridge, a good cup draw will be on their immediate agenda whilst for Biggleswade, another season finishing above ‘Town’ will once again give them local bragging rights. For me, I'll certainly be back as it's a club who made an effort to make myself feel welcome, next time as I said to Ray ahead of my goodbyes "I'll come dressed more appropriately for the boardroom".
Biggleswade: Dan Green, Adam Hunt, Miguel Lopes de Matos, Lawrie Marsh, Adam Tilson (Dan Carey-Evans 84), Dan Akubuine, Alex Marsh, Rio Martucci, Pemi Aderoju, Tom Coles, Daniel Bond (Jack Dickerson 74).
Cambridge City: Joe Welch, Patrick Staszewski, Jake Battersby, Liam Chadwick, Richard Black, Taylor Parr, Joe Hood, Scott Bridges, Brad Rolt (Ryan Ingrey 76), Stefan Broccoli, Daniel Cotton (Mikey Davis 84).
3:00pm Kick Off. Sunday 17th September 2023, The Eyrie, Bedford (att 308).